Children’s literature is and has always been instrumental in bringing change in society. This perception is a fruitful outcome of my professional experience as a teacher. Being a government school teacher I always looked for ways to make my teaching more interesting as I had limited access to teaching learning materials. My students loved stories and the songs I would make on the spot while teaching them. Activity based classroom teaching paved way for me to creatively experiment with children’s literature. I would always be eager to attend book fairs to purchase new books for my students but I was not able to find books on contemporary themes or with colourful pictures. This took me on my own journey to write short stories and poems with the aim of enriching the learning potential of children. When I saw the call for applications for the Big Little Book Award (BLBA) – Kathavana writing workshop I immediately submitted my best manuscripts. I was thrilled to be selected as one of the participants and eager to learn from the mentors. My writing journey got a new dimension through the BLBA – Kathavana Writing Workshop for upcoming writers in Kannada children’s literature which was conducted online by Parag, an initiative of Tata Trusts and Kathavana, Azim Premji University.

I was looking forward to having a foundational orientation to children’s literature. The workshop sessions highlighted the many facets of children’s literature and successfully navigated us through the many details of writing for children. We had many discussions on what a good book is, what themes to pick for children, and how to keep a check on our own biases when we write. We had sessions from esteemed members of children’s literature. The famous children’s author Mr. Nagesh Hegde spoke of his love for animals and environment, how he uses them in his writing, and how we can use animals and environment to enhance our writing. The brilliant illustrator, Ms. Priya Kuriyan spoke to us about the importance of inspiration and the relationship between author and illustrator in bringing a book together. In all her books the illustrations are filled with details as though she has the ability to enter a child’s mind with her illustrations that bring life to a story. She also gave us an insight into wordless picture books. Mr. Ramesh Udupa of Navakarnataka helped us understand publisher expectations and the overall book development process. He explained market trends and what people usually like to read. He also expressed his concern about his dilemma as a publisher to publish books that have good content and are able to sell widely. Our mentors – Mini Shrinivasan, renowned children’s writer, Vasudhendra, writer and publisher and Thejaswi Shivanand, a library educator had planned engaging sessions and lively discussions.

Good children’s books from the western context was provided to us as a digital resource to access before the workshop started. The workshop organisers also sent us physical copies of good Kannada books. Both these were very helpful in expanding my writing as I have written more of children’s songs and poems than stories. Currently, I am in my mentorship period and am actively using these books as an inspiration. I have drawn inspiration from some of my favourite books – Beeji’s Story, The Dam, and The Library Lion to shape my own writing.

The books helped me to understand skills, technicalities and themes that writers have explored for children. The simple language used in the books helped me to read, understand, and participate in book discussions. Resource persons and mentors helped us in understanding the historical and contemporary trends in children’s literature. This led me to think about these topics and bring a new perspective to my own writing. The writing workshop gave me many ideas and points to think about my own teaching as well. Through the discussions I was able to discover many pedagogical practices which I can take with me to the classroom. I am now more at ease to use literature to teach with my students. I am sure I can help my fellow teachers to get creative with literature. I always thought that literature was meant for learning and bettering ourselves in language, but now I can confidently say that I have much to explore in literature and will continue reaping the benefits of this workshop.

I am very thankful to our resource persons Mini Shrinivasan, Vasudhendra, and Thejaswi Shivanand for their insightful guidance. I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to the Kathavana team for their timely assistance and support. I am thankful to Parag and Azim Premji University for organising this workshop.

Rekha Bhat is a teacher in Government Primary School, Yellapur, Uttarakannada. She has written stories and poems for children. Her first book ‘Madila Nakshatra’ collection of Gazals was supported by Kannada Book Authority. Her articles have been regularly featured in prominent Kannada newspapers like Vijayavani, Hosadiganta, Udayavani, and many others.

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